TALKING “C’MON LET ME RIDE” WITH SKYLAR GREY

You may know her as the female vocalist featured on Dr. Dre & Eminem’s “I Need A Doctor,” Diddy’s “Coming Home,” Lupe Fiasco’s “Words I Never Said,” or Fort Minor’s “Where’d You Go,” but Skylar Grey insists there’s more to her artistry than just singing hooks on or writing other musicians’ songs.

Earlier today, Grey premiered the cheeky music video for “C’mon Let Me Ride,” the lead single from her highly-anticipated debut album, Don’t Look Down (slated for release next spring). Shot in Detroit, the video is set in a trailer park and marks another collaboration with Mr. Marshall “Eminem” Mathers himself, who also happens to be executive producing Grey’s entire record.

“Working with Marshall has taught me so many valuable things,” Grey revealed to me during a recent interview. “But one piece of advice that really stuck with me was when one day he told me to ‘just be you.’ It’s something that seems so simple but I think about that almost all every day. As a musician, it’s so important to stay true to yourself.”

That idea of staying true to yourself is one that’s on full display in the “C’Mon Let Me Ride” video. Appropriately complimenting the song’s lighthearted lyrics, the video is campiness at its best: totally over the top while being entirely self-aware. In its thesis, the video pokes fun at the lengths people go to in order to beautify themselves – depicting things such as tanning and plastic surgery as darkly comical forms of self-mutilation. Thus, Grey uses her video to define “sexy” as embracing who you are, rather than conforming to a pre-conceived notion of what the word means.

It’s no surprise, then, that the singer/songwriter has enlisted the same self-empowering attitude about working on Don’t Look Down. “A lot of people know me as that girl on all those hip-hop songs, and while there are lots of hip-hop beats on the album, I definitely wouldn’t call myself a rapper,” she said of the expectations about her upcoming album. She would then go on to describe the sounds of the record as spanning the whole spectrum from the acoustic tranquility of The Buried Sessions of Skylar Grey (an EP the singer put out earlier this ear) to the bombastic and radio-friendly major pop sound of “C’mon Let Me Ride.”

“This album is really going to give her a chance to connect with the fans who probably know her music, but might not know her yet,” stated Eminem in a recent press release about Don’t Look Down. “I think they will be as impressed as I am.”

As for that sample of Queen’s “Bicycle Race” that helps make “C’Mon Let Me Ride” so damn catchy? “That was all Marshall,” Grey confessed with a chuckle. The song was already in its final stages of mixing when Eminem decided that it needed one final Midas touch before it was complete. And the end result is a sexually-charged anthem that is as witty as it is celebratory and fun.

But possibly what’s most interesting about Grey’s artistic journey is that for a while, she turned her back on music. She explained that a few years ago, she did some soul-searching by moving to an isolated cabin in the woods. There, she cut herself off from the world to force some necessary introspection after not feeling creatively fulfilled during her first foray into the industry.

“I experienced somewhat of a rebirth,” the singer explained. “I taught myself to be completely happy living in the wilderness completely on my own. That showed me that as long as I set my mind to something and work hard enough for it, I can make it happen. So that’s when I wrote Love The Way You Lie, and the rest is history.”

Grey was of course referring to the song she co-wrote which was later made popular by Eminem and Rihanna and would go on to become one of the biggest singles of 2010. A literal life-changing song for Grey, Love The Way You Lie also scored two of the five Grammy nominations she already has under her belt and inspired her to give making music professionally another chance.

For years now, Grey has been slowly inching out of the shadows onto the center of the stage. Yet with the release of “C’Mon Let Me Ride” (now on iTunes) and her upcoming album, Don’t Look Down, Grey is ready to bask in the spotlight and establish herself as a solo artist who can not only write a smash, but also be the voice and face to sell it.

Originally published on PopBytes

ALICIA KEYS PERFORMS INTIMATE CONCERT FOR HURRICANE SANDY RESPONDERS AND VOLUNTEERS

On the day of her fifth album’s release, there’s only one place Alicia Keys wanted to be: home.

A native New Yorker, the R&B singer celebrated Girl On Fire hitting shelves by performing one of the most intimate concerts of her career in Manhattan’s lower West Side. Keys took to the stage at the iHeartRadio Theater presented by P.C. Richard & Son to honor Hurricane Sandy first responders and volunteers. And in a token of gratitude, the audience was comprised entirely of people who were nominated to attend the exclusive event due to their work and commitment to restoring their local communities.

Listening to a diverse setlist of Keys’ greatest hits and fan-favorites, the concertgoers excitedly cheered as they heard familiar songs like “Karma,” “If I Ain’t Got You,” and “Try Sleeping With A Broken Heart.” But the applause was never as uproarious as when the 14-time Grammy Award-winner played her 2001 breakout smash, “Fallin’.” Upon the song’s first note, it was instantly clear that the eleven years that have passed since its release have done nothing but enhance Key’s soulful vocals and inspiringly passionate delivery.

When she wasn’t taking the audience on a nostalgic journey through her repertoire, Keys highlighted her favorite tracks on Girl On Fire. Kicking off the show with album stand-out “New Day,” the singer/songwriter also treated her audience to the advisory “Listen To Your Heart,” the gorgeous love song, “Not Even The King,” and the album’s dynamitic title track.

While each individual song merited its own standing ovation, easily the most powerful performance of Keys’ new material was the show stopping rendition of “Brand New Me.” But perhaps even more touching than the lyrics’ message of self-empowerment was that joining Keys on stage during the song’s duration was her 2-year-old son, Egypt. Handed off to his mother following her bombastic performance of her classic, “No One,” the toddler lovingly embraced Keys and requested into the microphone that she sing “Brand New Me.”

“Don’t be surprised/If I talk a little louder/If I speak up when you’re wrong/If I walk a little taller/I’ve been on to you too long,” the songstress beautifully crooned as she reminisced on the long journey she took to get to where she is today. “If you noticed that I’m different/Don’t take it personally/Don’t be mad, it’s just the brand new kind of me/And it ain’t bad, I found a brand new kind of free.”

Another highlight of the evening was Keys’ flawless performance of “Empire State Of Mind (Pt. II)” – a song that made history the evening prior when city landmark the Empire State Building synced up its lightshow to it. It was during this tribute to the Big Apple that Keys’ love of her hometown was on full display, visibly moving the audience members who so heroically demonstrated the same sentiment just a few weeks earlier.

When Z100 radio host Elvis Duran introduced Alicia Keys before she hit the stage, he described her as “New York’s daughter.” Yet after an up-close performance designed as a thank you to those dedicated to its perseverance, Keys proved that every member of her audience was just as deserving of that title as she was. She may have been the catalyst for everyone gathering at the iHeartRadio Theater that night – but the real reason everyone was there was apparent the whole time: a communal love for New York and the music that expresses its heart.

Originally published on PopBytes

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PHOTOS | Theo Wargo for Getty Images/iHeartRadio
VIDEOS | Courtesy of Roberto Marin